The Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about Christmas sermons
The difficulty of preaching Christmas, of course, is that the story is familiar and yet we do want to stick to the story. So as I look at the familiar story of the Incarnation as found in Luke 2, I notice anew how the announcement comes from unreliable sources.
Shepherds were regarded, along with tax collectors and some other occupations, as little better than thieves. Due to the dry conditions of the land, shepherds had to range widely with the flocks entrusted to them. Well away from the owners of the herd, who could know how many lambs were born in a given year? It was not uncommon for shepherds to sell off some lambs and pocket the money.
The ancient Jewish rabbis considered shepherding a thieving occupation and deprived shepherds of some civil rights. For example, shepherds were not permitted to appear in court as a witness as they were considered so unreliable. Shepherds were assumed to be such liars that their testimony would not hold up in court no matter how many shepherds told the story. Later, Jesus great witness to the resurrection will be Mary Magdalene, and while she will be an apostle to the apostles, her testimony would likewise not be accepted in court due to her gender. This seems wrapped up to me in what God is doing through the Incarnation to turn the way of the world upside down.
It was pure foolishness to give the good news to end all good news to groups that everyone would consider suspect. As Paul would later write to the Corinthians, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). The very commonness, lowliness really, of Jesus’ birth is confirmed when the angels appear neither at the stable with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, nor in the palace of Caesar or even Herod. The very people no one would believe were given the news everyone should hear.
Then there is the sign that the shepherds are given. They will know the angels' message is true when they find "a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." Basically, the message is that when you find a parent so down on their luck as to use a feed box for a bassinet, you will have found the Messiah.
Yet this comes as good news of great joy for all people, for how much more could God turn the world upside down in a single night than coming to the world not in power, but in weakness; not in wealth, but in poverty; and not to the esteemed, but to those no one else would notice. As I journey toward Christmas, I wonder how I can help show anew just how revolutionary the Incarnation was and is. For whatever else would follow that night, it could no longer be the status quo.
Frank Logue is a member of the APLM Council having served previously as its secretary. He is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia and blogs on congregational development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org
The photo shows steps in Capernaum Israel that may miss the point of the Incarnation as any place can and be made holy.